At Spring Grove, a new crew steps up to support Brooks
Ever since Eli Brooks burst on the scene as a freshman, he's been the center of attention for the Spring Grove boys' basketball.
The year before Brooks joined the team, the Rockets won just two games. They improved to earn seven wins in Brooks' freshman campaign, and then won 15 games two years ago, securing a District 3 playoff berth for the first time in 20 years. Last season, Spring Grove went 25-4 and won the YAIAA tournament for the first time since 1971, advancing to the PIAA tournament.
Certainly, Brooks has a lot to do with the Rockets' rise.
But what doesn't get as much attention is the supporting cast that surrounds the University of Michigan commit.
Last season, that group included Darin Gordon, a current freshman at York College who scored 1,118 points at Spring Grove, along with starters Liam Flaherty and Grant Wierman, who turned in 7.8 points per game.
This season, those three starters have been replaced by Drew Gordon, Austin Panter and Jake Messersmith. Gordon and Panter were the sixth and seventh men last year, with Gordon contributing 4.4 points per game and Panter adding 3.2 points per game.
"Drew and Austin played a lot for us last season off the bench and could've been starters," Rocket coach James Brooks said. "Their minutes this year have gone up by about 5-6 per game, so it's not that much of an increase."
Panter has responded by scoring in double figures in each of Spring Grove's first two games this season, a feat he didn't reach in any of his 28 games last year. Panter posted a career-high 17 points in the team's 73-46 win against South Western on Tuesday.
"Our game plan was to try to limit Eli's touches, and we did a good job of doing that at times," South Western coach Nate Brodbeck said after Tuesday's game. "You can tell that his teammates love to play with him. He's able to score pretty much whenever he wants, but he's a willing passer and they know that if they are open, that he will get them the ball."
A University of Michigan recruit, Brooks makes it a point to try to involve his teammates as much as possible and approaches each game the same, regardless of who the opponent is.
"It was a little questionable coming into the season who would be our second and third option, but Austin and Drew have really stepped it up," Eli Brooks said. "We talk about everyone doing their job. Whether it's big or small, everyone that gets in the game has a role to play to help us succeed."
James Brooks was a standout player at Gettysburg High, graduating in 1988 as a 1,000-point scorer. The Warriors posted a 21-5 record in his senior season that led to a Blue Mountain League crown, and he has passed those lessons on to his son.
"Being the best player on the team holds the responsibility of making the rest of the players on the team better," James Brooks said. "He has to share the ball for us to be able to play the way that we want to play. We want everyone to feel important and to do their job. Whether it's playing defense, boxing out or being ready to shoot when the ball comes their way, they each have their own roles."
Panter, who moved to Spring Grove from Texas before his junior season, raved about Brooks as a teammate. He said that although Brooks is certainly a star player for the Rockets, he doesn't possess a star ego.
"Eli is one of the most personable guys that I know. He knows that he's a great player, but he doesn't act like he's above everyone else," Panter said. "We're all the same age, but we do all look up to him as our leader and he leads the team well."
For his part, Brooks has posted identical efforts in each of the Rockets' first two games of the season: 31 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists in each of the two wins. He now sits at 1,587 career points, just 89 points behind 1993 grad Jared Smith for the school's all-time scoring record.